Saturday, October 1, 2011

Motion Studies: Clowns

           As the montage that opens Sean Dunne’s American Juggalo moves along, it becomes more tempting to see not largely clown faces, but only clown faces.
            But of course, American Juggalo is about many faces. So we watch, in not-too-slow-motion: a man in face paint pouring soda over his head in the back of a pickup truck stuffed with fans of the Insane Clown Posse; two boys in ICP t-shirts and white face paint staring at the camera with a gang-like blankness; a man in a black shirt and red baseball cap dancing on a picnic table for his friends a grouping of shirtless youths on a makeshift raft, trying to stand on the raft and happily falling, because that was the whole point.
            About half of these people wear makeup, about half do not. Some are shirtless, some are clothed in the style of teenage suburban Americans who can only afford so much, but make style from what they do have on their bodies. Some are intense, unapproachable, un-emotive, perhaps out of a genuine resentment for anything societal, perhaps from drugs and alcohol; these people stay stoic in the camera's frame. Some are emotive, approachable, articulate, and apparently carefree; these people move around generously in the camera's frame. At about the time the music changes from a drone to a dance beat—at the point when we watch the man dance on the picnic table—our conclusion is not that this is the stoicism, articulation, and mobility of young Americans. Not of clowns.
            But these young Americans must understand how that clown face-paint looks colorful, zesty, enticing against the sunny countryside of Cave-in-Rock, Illinois during the annual Gathering of the Juggalos.